July marked the 15th anniversary of the death of Moshood Abiola in the presence of American diplomats and secret service agents. Lots of unanswered questions about his death remain
On the 12th of June 1993, Nigerians went to the polls in great numbers, indeed in the greatest numbers ever, and voted massively for Moshood Abiola (27 August 1937- 7 July 1998) to become their president. I am yet to hear any Nigerian, or indeed any foreign observer, say that the election was not free and fair. Nigerians almost unanimously agree that it was the freest and fairest in the chequered electoral history of that hapless country. But that victory wasn’t allowed to stand by the Nigerian oligarchic establishment, with the help of their very powerful foreign backers. Five years after, they had to kill Abiola in order to rubbish that mandate.
Abiola himself was an unlikely beneficiary of that election, having been implicated in many coup d’états that scuttled wobbly democratic experiments in the country. His closeness to the military was legendary. And I think in the end, it is safe to say, with the benefit of hindsight, that the military made and unmade him. They made him in that he was arguably the greatest beneficiary of some of the shady but lucrative deals successive military governments oversaw, making him stupendously wealthy in the process. But they unmade him in that he naively believed that they were going to hand him the greatest price: executive political power. Abiola, together with Obasanjo, were often at the receiving end of their inimitable kinsman Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s devastating lyrics. He famously called them ITT or International Thief, Thief.
Abiola’s lacklustre democratic credentials were further put on display when after winning a landslide victory in a presidential election, he chose to jet out of the country at the slightest hint that his personal security might be in danger, while hundreds of Nigerians were dying on the streets to protect the sanctity of the mandate they gave him. Nevertheless, in spite of himself, in the run up to the election and thereafter, Abiola had, or received and eventually accepted, some progressive ideas from some progressive elements in the country. And that made him a suspect to the ruling establishment. I think those ideas may be the reason he had to be denied a mandate he won squarely, and when he refused to acquiesce, had to be oppressed and later killed, with the active connivance of the ‘international community.’
I want to argue here that first we need to understand that connivance, that complicity, in all its ramifications. That understanding might help us to grasp Africa’s predicament in the global political economy. Second, African progressives need to bear that connivance in mind in our quest to liberate Africa from the stranglehold of the imperialists and their African collaborators. We ignore that to our own peril.
Abiola literally died after drinking a special tea served him by American diplomats who were presumably in Abuja as guests of the country’s president at the time. In his well researched, fascinating but heart rending book: King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, American author, academic and journalist Adam Hochschild narrated how President Eisenhower commissioned secret agents to go and poison Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba who, like Abiola, was elected in a landslide victory as the first Prime Minister of the Congo. Now, it is perfectly possible that Abiola died of a heart attack triggered by natural causes. But the presence of those tea-carrying and tea-distributing diplomats is, at the very least, suspect. The fact that Abiola died shortly after accepting a cup of tea from them is doubly suspect. His personal physician and friend has been calling for more tests to determine the actual cause of death, just as they’re currently doing for Yasser Arafat after traces of poison were discovered in his remains.
We may say that Abiola’s cup of tea wasn’t poisoned. But let us for one moment imagine another scenario: tea-carrying and tea-distributing African diplomats in a Western capital and the sudden death of a prominent Western politician after drinking the tea. The possibility of this happening in the West is absolutely zero. So why is it happening in Africa? Why should American presidents commission their secret service agents to go and assassinate, through poison or other means, African leaders who are elected by their own people in veritable free and fair elections?
There are a number of questions we need to ask. One, like any citizen of Nigeria, the then head of state Abdulsalami Abubakar was free to invite anybody as his guest. But that freedom doesn’t include inviting people on behalf of others, nor does it include giving such guests unfettered access to the country’s institutions. Abiola was in the country’s correctional institution. That meant that any visit he received had to be supervised, any food he ate tested. How come foreigners were allowed unfettered access to him and the food they gave him wasn’t tested? We also need to ask who invited them to Nigeria. If they invited themselves, did the Nigerian head of state have the power to tell them no?
Two, what was their mission? From available reports, it was to persuade Abiola, for the upteempth time, to renounce his mandate. So it seemed the game plan was this: if he agreed to renounce his mandate, he had to sign, if he didn’t agree to renounce his mandate, he’d be served a cup of home-brewed tea.
Three, why would those foreigners be so interested in who rules Nigeria that for them it became a matter of life and death? Isn’t that supposed to be the business of Nigerians? More importantly, why would Abiola who won an undisputed free and fair election be told in no uncertain terms to renounce his mandate? Earlier the Secretaries General of the Commonwealth and the United Nations, both Africans, had visited Abiola allegedly to persuade him to renounce his mandate. Note that what these diplomats were telling Abiola was that even though the majority of Nigerians voted for him, the ‘international community’ doesn’t think much of that. Instead they support the military who took over power by force, something similar to what is happening in Egypt today.
Four, why was it left to one of the visiting diplomats to call a press conference while Abiola’s body was still warm, to tell the world that Abiola had died of a heart attack? Before any medical science could establish what killed Abiola, the leader of this foreign delegation was already telling the world what killed Abiola. How could he be so sure? Abiola reportedly died at 3.40pm and by 4pm the leader of the mission was already giving a press conference where he declared what killed the man. It looked suspiciously like mission accomplished. More disturbing is the fact that neither the head of state nor the usually loquacious Nigerian government officials were missing in action. So in those crucial few hours, a group of foreigners was overtly running the Nigerian state.
This last fact is extremely disturbing. Keen observers of the asphyxiating relationship between the West and Africa would know that the circumstances surrounding the death of Abiola were eerily similiar to those of Lumumba. Indeed, the Western assassins who killed Lumumba and his closest allies and cut their bodies into a million pieces before pouring acid on them have told the story openly, with their videos circulating on YouTube because they know that the Congolese government will NOT arrest them.
The two deadliest weapons that Western imperialism has been using effectively against nationalists in Africa are their incredibly powerful media and their superior firearms. Many Africans naively take whatever comes from the Western media as gospel truth. Most recently they used them to devastating effect in Côte d’Ivoire, in Libya, and in the DRC. Those Africans are more likely than not to find what I’m saying here rather irritatingly unbelievable. Those who’re a little more informed would prefer to blame the sorry state of most of Africa on the mediocre rulers who are in charge, without asking how come those mediocres are always in charge and as soon as someone who wants make real progress comes to power, he becomes a sworn enemy of the West and doesn’t last long…
Some recent elections in many parts of Africa have put the Western hypocrisy in Africa on full display for those who want to see. The point is that despite pretensions, the West never really supports free and fair elections in Africa. They support candidates. If their candidates win in free and fair elections, all good, if they don’t, well, they find a way to install them. Recently we saw that mindset notoriously on demonstrated in Côte d’Ivoire and the DRC. I invite the reader to see a very brief narrative of these hypocrisies in the appendix.
When you put all these together, you cannot but arrive at the conclusion that when the West talks of democracy in Africa, they define that ‘democracy’ in a peculiar way. A democrat for them is not one who wins a free and fair election, otherwise Abiola would have been supported to claim his mandate. The situations in Côte d’Ivoire and the DRC would be different, to mention only these. In fact what’s happening in Egypt is eerily similar to what happened in Nigeria after Abiola won a free and fair election. The only difference is that Abiola wasn’t even allowed to rule at all. In Egypt a democratically elected president was overthrown via a military coup. There are credible reports that those who organized the demonstrations that were used as an excuse to oust the president received considerable logistical and financial support from the West, notably from the USA. The massive demonstrations were used as a red herring for the coup which the West tacitly supports for reasons best known to them.
African progressives will need to sit up and examine the remote and recent history of the lopsided relationship the continent has had with mainly the West for close to a millennium now, a relationship that has mostly been detrimental to the continent. Things may not change overnight, but we need to start somewhere. Nobody, certainly not those who are greatly benefitting from our subservience, will give us independence, unless we fight for it. As the popular saying goes, until the lions learn to tell their own stories, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter. Knowledge is power. We need to educate ourselves. Mandela said that education is the most powerful weapon to change the world. Or, as the philosopher Spinoza would say, knowledge is the most powerful passion. How true! But it can also be the most powerful weapon to brainwash generations. I think the latter is more of what has happened in most of Africa. Steve Biko observed this very keenly and then concluded that the most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed says. Isn’t it time we begin to unlearn many things we were thought about ourselves?
I spoke earlier about Abiola having some progressive ideas, which made him unacceptable to the imperialists. One is that the Abiola of 1994 and onwards was inclined to listen to progressives, and who knows what would have come out of such inclination. It’s possible that Western companies operating in the country would have been obliged, at the very least, to start paying real taxes and respect the laws of the land. Another idea he had was reparation to Africa for the evils of slavery and colonialism which he had spent a lot of energy and fortune championing. Although by the time he was elected president, his interest in the project had waned somewhat, chances were that he most probably would have revived it as president.
In a recent Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, declared that the West has it the other way wrong when it comes to Africa. According to her, Africa doesn’t owe the West anything. On the contrary, the West owes a lot to Africa, the white woman said, brandishing her cell phone and telling her viewers where the raw materials for that came from and the millions of people that have died there as a result. She said the issue of reparations is inevitable if the West wants to do right by Africa. Having been to the Niger Delta, she said that unfortunately, what she saw there was really drilling and killing, leaving the local population wretched. She also spoke of the militarism of the presence of the USA in Africa, like the Africom and the launching of drones to other parts of the world from African bases.
I wonder what President Obama thinks of that. In his recent visit to the continent, he carefully chose countries that had recently had ‘successful’ presidential elections. Very good! Now what does he and the American policy makers think of the visit of their diplomats to persuade Abiola, who was put in prison for winning a widely praised democratic election, to renounce a mandate he won fair and square? What would Obama say about that? From what we’ve seen so far, like in his tacit support of the recent blatant election riggings in Côte d’Ivoire and the DRC, his tacit of support for the French in the killing of Ivoirians who dared to believe in the sanctity of the ballot box, it has been business as usual.
President Obama told Africans in Tanzania that in their quest for development, they could always count on America as a friend and partner. Well, as the Americans would say—if the treatment of Abiola (and similar cases) as shown above is any indication of that friendship—with friends like you, we don’t need an enemy! Socrates asked millennia ago how a nation could be great unless it is led by its wisest. How can Africans pursue development when their choices at the ballot boxes, like happened in Nigeria in 1993, and elsewhere on the continent, are not respected? How can they pursue development when they are being led by morons? America shouldn’t be supporting, indeed, helping to prop up such morons all over Africa based purely on protecting their own economic, military and diplomatic interests.
If Abiola was allowed to serve his mandate, we wouldn’t have been successively inflicted with Sonekan, Abacha, Abubakar, Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan and their different versions of kleptocracy and ineptitude. Nigeria would certainly have been the better for it! The country would have inched closer to a middle income country instead of what we have currently whereby less than one percent of the population is holding the rest to ransom, openly stealing from them. And most importantly, the electoral system, namely option A4 that brought Abiola’ victory in a truly free and fair election would have been perfected in the ensuing two decades. That would have been our home grown contribution to democracy.
The USA, or any other country for that matter, will of course always seek to protect their own interests, no matter what they may say publicly, and if those interests conflict with those of a country like Nigeria, it’d be naïve to expect them not to try to push their interests especially if they’ve the power to do so. But for Africans, it’s naïve to think that those interests are also their own interests. We saw that happen recently in Côte d’Ivoire where many Africans supported the French invasion of that country in the name of ‘promoting democracy.’ That country has since lapsed into a dictatorship!
America itself offers a good example of how the oppressed should fight for their welfare. Recently President Obama spoke of how blacks are unfairly targeted by whites and the laws of the land—a veritable judicial apartheid! But the truth is that whatever progress African Americans have made in claiming their civil rights have invariably come from them saying ‘enough is enough’ and walking the talk, be it about segregated buses, segregated schools, segregated marriages, etc, etc. It took centuries from the time our forebears were shipped to the Americas as slaves to the time Rosa Parks refused to cede her bus seat to a white person, thereby unleashing centuries of suppressed frustration in the African American community; and that frustration was ingeniously galvanized into the civil rights movement by Dr. King and others. Before then blacks had been told how lucky they were living in America.
So, like white America, the West would prefer that we either blame ourselves for their imperialism, colonialism and neo colonialism, or that we instead spend our time talking about the benefits, to us, of our association with the West. The problem with Africans in Africa is that most of us don’t even realize that there is something known as imperialism, being as we are so fascinated by the West, so the few who speak about it are regarded as insane.
Right now we’re still in denial, a denial that is manifesting itself in our overzealous readiness to repeat the arguments of the oppressors, to point to selective facts to support those arguments, and generally to continue to believe and act as if black is inferior to white. Eventually, the time will come when we’ll become conscious of how much we’re still tied to the tenterhooks of our oppressors. How long it’ll take us to get there, I don’t know.
Many wise Americans regret that after the abolition of slavery, the ex slaves were not really integrated into the mainstream of the American economy and society. That lack of integration into is at the root of the pervasive poverty in the black community today. Today African Americans are still largely excluded from mainstream American life. The election of an African American president seems to have made it worse. The justice system is stacked up against them. In his 2008 speech on race after Jeremiah Wright almost derailed his very successful campaign for the American presidency, Barack Obama gave voice to that exclusion and the resultant pain felt in the black community. He repeated it again this month in his historic unscripted speech on race relations in America, particularly as it affects African Americans. The lesson is simple: when you pull others down in order to stay up, your position cannot but remain precarious, and your success ephemeral. That, I think, is the lesson of apartheid. Imperialism really benefits no one. But don’t wait for the imperialists to voluntarily give up their perceived advantages.
To be masters of our destiny going forward, instead of trying to score some cheap political points on the back of Abiola, we need to get to the root of the matter by trying to find answers to the questions surrounding how he was treated. Why was his electoral victory annulled? Why were foreigners given unfettered access to him while he was in prison? Why did the powers that be hand over the reigns of state to foreigners in the treatment of Abiola? We certainly need to know if there are traces of poison in his system. We cannot be said to be really independent if we leave those questions unanswered or pretend that they’re not there.
But until we begin ask the necessary questions, questions that will free us from millennia of oppression, we’ll continue to metaphorically drink the tea that Abiola drank on that fateful day.
In Côte d’Ivoire, while the electoral officials were still counting the votes, ‘results’ were already announced in the French media! They were in such a hurry to proclaim the ‘victory’ of their candidate that they forgot that Côte d’Ivoire was not officially a part of France! And before president Gbagbo could say hey, Nicolas Sarkozy, a man who has made abjectly racist statements about Africa, born out of even more abject ignorance of ancient and modern history, gave him three days to cede or be taken to The Hague with his wife! Why was Sarkozy, a French citizen, so personally interested in who becomes the President of Ivory Coast?
The Western media and their African puppets are repeating, ad nauseam, that President Gbagbo lost elections and refused to hand over power. Now, not a word was said by these powerful media outlets and their African puppets about the fact that in the first round of elections, President Gbagbo won, and got tens of thousands of votes in the northern part of the country while in the second round he got zero votes there, something that is statistically impossible! With the ground already prepared by their powerful media propaganda, the French moved in through the tunnel linking the French embassy and the presidential palace in Abidjan and arrested Gbagbo and his wife. In Abidjan the presidential palace is simply an appendage of the French embassy which is where the real power lies, as President Gbagbo discovered the hard way. On coming to power, instead of telling the French to relocate, Gbagbo blocked the tunnel with a concrete wall (that was one the problems he had with the French), and it was that wall that the French army blew up to go and arrest the president. No Western media reported this bizarre arrangement where a foreign embassy is linked to the presidential palace through a tunnel, giving foreign diplomats free access to the office of the president, whether the president was there or not! Many Africans swallowed hook line and sinker the narrative that Gbagbo lost elections and refused to hand over. In all these, none of the Western media and their African puppets asked how come the rebels who fought the Gbagbo government for 11 years are now the ones in charge. It’s been alleged that it was a war that the French, under the guise of the UN, waged against Gbagbo as soon as they realized that he wasn’t going to be taking orders from them. None of the powerful media said a word about the two attempted coup d’états that France overtly sponsored. None of them said a word about the UN brokered agreement that stipulated that elections should not hold unless the rebels in the north must have been disarmed for at least two months before elections could hold. None of them spoke of the blatant rigging the rebels perpetrated in the north where Gbagbo supporters were maimed and killed. None of them said that even the UN itself, the supposedly neutral umpire, had two different sets of results. None of them said that Gbagbo had offered to step down provided that what really happened in the north was investigated and votes recounted, supervised by an international body of people with proven integrity. I’ve not seen where a loser in an election demands a recount and offers to step down if a credible recount didn’t favour him while his opponent flatly refused such because he had the support of foreign superior fire power. This reminds one of the famous case settled by King Solomon of two women laying claim to a baby…
It’s true that many Africans were fed up with incumbents who lost elections and refused to cede power. But unfortunately Gbagbo wasn’t one of those, instead we were made to believe that he was. And in any case, had the ‘international community’ gone to throw bombs at the presidential palaces in Kenya and Zimbabwe or Cameroun in order to install a president? In Nigeria elections have been rigged forever, and no Nigerian has ever called for foreign military intervention to come and install him in power. Gbagbo’s opponent, in openly calling for foreign military intervention to settle an internal electoral dispute, has shown that his allegiance to a country he claims to be his is at the very least dubious. Right now Gbagbo is sitting in The Hague and even the neo-colonial ICC is still scrambling to find evidence to prosecute him on the preposterous charge of ‘crimes against humanity.’ All the calls for them to prosecute those who started the war in the country in 2002 have fallen on deaf ears for obvious reasons.
In October of 2011 Paul Biya went through his 7-year ritual called elections in which he usually ‘wins’ between 75-85% of the votes. Biya has been in power in Cameroon since 1982 when the French, realizing that his predecessor, Ahmadu Ahidjo, was set on making Cameroon a prosperous country in order to pave the way for its real independence, got French doctors to trick him into resigning ‘for health reasons’ (those interested in this political scam should read the account in Joan Baxter’s very revealing book, Dust From Our Eyes: An Unblinkered Look At Africa). They chose Biya to replace him. True, Ahidjo was in power for 22 years. But other French and Western protected presidents have stayed much longer, for instance Houphouet Boigny of Côte d’Ivoire, Sassou Nguesso of Congo, Eyadema of Togo, Kerekou of Benin, Mobutu of Zaïre, etc, were in power for over three decades; Nguesso is still there. Omar bongo of Gabon was in power for over four decades, and when he died, two French presidents attended his funeral. And Paul Biya himself has been in power now for over three decades, while Blaise Campaore has been in power for over 26 years! If Ahidjo didn’t want to make his country really independent, he could have stayed as long as he wanted. Biya understands the game quite well, so when he goes through those electoral rituals, the Western media prefers to look the other way. In Nigeria they certified the scam of 2011 that saw Jonathan inflicted on the country for four more years, continuing the kleptocracy and contemptuous disregard of the people’s wish started by IBB and going through OBJ. The very unpopular Obasanjo who never won any election in his home town wouldn’t have spent billions of public funds to try to rewrite the Constitution as the other Western protégés have been doing if he didn’t have plans to once again rig himself back into office.
In November 2011 the people of the DRC went to the polls and overwhelmingly elected Etienne Tshisekedi as president. All local and foreign observers testified that Tshisekedi won handily. The Catholic Church which had participants and observers in more than 60% percent of the vast country testified that Tshisekedi won. In the run up to the election, Joseph Kabila, who succeeded his father, Laurent Desiré Kabila, after the latter was assassinated in January 2001, quietly changed the electoral rules to avoid any run off. Then he unleashed his goons on the supporters of Tshisekedi, an incredibly popular politician in the country. Dozens were killed. But instead of Western agents to charge Kabila with murder and take him to the Hague, it was to Tshisekedi they went, telling him that calling out his supporters to the streets may lead to heavy bloodshed for which he’d be held responsible and taken to The Hague. The same diplomats also promised to help resolved the electoral crisis. It was a ploy to buy time for their man, and Tshisekedi naively fell for it! As far as those profiting from the rot in the DRC are concerned, it is business as usual. I invite you to read what the US State Department said after the elections. While they manifestly disregarded the submissions of Ivorian electoral and judicial institutions in the electoral dispute between President Gbagbo and his rival, they readily accepted the endorsement of fraudulent electoral results by the Supreme Court in the DRC. The document claimed that “it is still not clear whether the irregularities were sufficient to change the outcome of the election.” Then it said that that they “strongly urge all Congolese political leaders and their supporters to act responsibly, renounce violence, and resolve any disagreements through peaceful, constructive dialogue.” Well, in Côte d’Ivoire somebody declared himself president based on fraudulent results, just like in the DRC because he knew he had the backing of the West. In Nigeria another person won and just because he didn’t have the backing of he West, his victory was annulled with impunity, he was thrown in jail, and was visited by Western diplomats who told him to renounce his mandate. Africans need to say no to this hypocrisy.